Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto No 1

Notable virtuoso skills rouse these warhorses for a lively canter

Author: 
Ivan March

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto; Piano Concerto No 1

  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1

These are stimulating versions of two favourite concertos, which take a fresh interpretative approach, particularly so in the case of the piano concerto. Nikolai Lugansky was a pupil of Tatyana Nikolaieva, and his Russian credentials are impeccable. This is far from a barnstorming performance: the conception is spacious, with pianist and conductor taking time to relish the music’s puissance. The famous opening is broad and weighty. Then, although the first subject of the allegro has a vividly Russian rhythmic character, in both the exposition and recapitulation much is made of the beauty of lyrical secondary material and the Romantic link with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. The huge cadenza is not played with the usual impetuous thrust; instead its detail is relished. Significantly the timing of this first movement is 21'37" against Horowitz’s 17'30" in 1941 with Toscanini (RCA).

The following central Andantino, introduced delectably by the flute, is played by Lugansky with exquisite delicacy, followed by a scintillating central scherzando. The finale bursts forth with irrepressible dash and virtuosity, the orchestral players surging into their tuttis with abandon. But Nagano introduces the great secondary melody quite wistfully, and Tchaikovsky’s songfulness is never submerged. When, near the close, the theme reappears – after the pianist has thundered in – Nagano broadens the tempo massively, to make a hugely positive climax. Some forward impetus is lost, but Lugansky’s bravura is thrilling, and the coda would certainly bring down the house in concert.

Tchaikovsky’s friendly opening for his Violin Concerto, so different from the Piano Concerto, is shaped by Nagano in a mood of disarming simplicity, and Christian Tetzlaff’s beguiling introduction of the two main themes is invested with a natural lyrical warmth. He bounces his bow with engaging lightness in the key passage (7'03") which Hanslick famously described as ‘beating the violin black and blue’, while the cadenza is played with such affectionate detail that it becomes a highlight of the work.

Not surprisingly, the slow movement, shaped with exquisite tenderness by Tetzlaff, is very Russian in its orchestral palette. This ripely nostalgic colouring carries through to the contrasting folksy woodwind interludes in the finale. Tetzlaff’s playing throughout is almost unbelievably polished and secure.

In both concertos the recording has the orchestra placed naturally within a warm concert hall acoustic; the balance with the soloist in the Violin Concerto is admirable; in the companion concerto the piano is much more forward, right in front of the listener, veryreal and tangible. Altogether a fascinating coupling, well worth exploring.

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